Open your Bible to 1 Timothy 4:6-11 where we encounter what could almost be called a formula for being a good servant of Jesus Christ. In the context it refers specifically to Timothy as the shepherd of the church in Ephesus; but in principle it applies not only to myself but it also applies to every servant of Jesus.
Look at what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:6-11. Twice we read the injunction teach these things. It's actually repeated again in verse 15 where Timothy is told to be absorbed in them.
"These things" is more than a reference back to the last few verses, but rather serves to represent everything that has gone before. "these things" is equivalent to "everything I've told you".
Looking back over the content of the book we see a number of major themes developed. In the first chapter it's the proper use of law and the graceful intent of Jesus' coming to save sinners. In the second chapter it's a call to prayer born out of God's desire to save souls, and an instruction for proper behavior in the church for both men and women. In the third chapter there was the careful list of requirements for proper church leadership. And the fourth chapter began with a warning of false teachers. Over all of this is the proper application of God's word. If Timothy will continue to teach these many things than he will be a good servant.
From my perspective as a pastor that certainly helps me, but what about the rest of us? Since we are all supposed to serve Jesus Christ, there is an application to you as well. What would it take for you to hear the words, "Well Done Good And Faithful Servant!". The pathway to hearing that is, I think, mirrored in this passage.
As you move through the text, he goes on to list three characteristics of a good servant and all of them, like all of the doctrine discussed up until this point, revolve around the word of God having a transforming effect on your life.
Continuity In the Word
("constantly nourished…" v6)
The idea here is that of being in the word daily so that over the long term you are effected by it. That's why some translations pick the word "train" here. One of the reasons I meticulously preach verse by verse through the scriptures is because I believe that proper doctrine has a transformational effect. Take for instance the doctrine of baptism. If I just ask you to dunk yourself in a tub in front of a group of people you would think I was odd. But if I explain the doctrine of baptism as a reenactment of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and as a public declaration of your personal faith in Jesus Christ; thus identifying you with him – then suddenly getting baptized is not a bizarre phenomenon it becomes something you are not only willing to participate in but as you begin to understand that it is a command of Jesus Christ, than as a follower of Jesus Christ you are going to see the necessity of baptism for your own life.
We desperately need to be continually exposed to solid doctrinal teaching. The only appropriate source of solid doctrinal teaching is the Bible, the word of God.
Now, pay attention to the word "continually". The NIV translates that as "brought up in" but that makes it sound like your Bible education is all in the past. But the word itself requires the sense of constancy.
How many of you know that it's easy to forget something? <pause> It's just as easy to forget what God says as it is to forget where you put the keys. If that's the case, than we need constant-re-exposure to God's word.
It may be old hat teaching to almost everyone here, but the question remains – are you in the word? Do you read it, study, allow it to permeate your life or not? I can at least say with assurance, if you're here – and if you're listening then you are in the word at least once a week on Sunday. But Sunday isn't enough. Sunday is supposed to be the desert on top of a week long munch fest of God's word. If you're not coming in here already touched by God's word – you are cheating yourself of spiritual maturity. Good servants are constantly strengthened on God's word, not just hit and miss.
I can't brow-beat you into becoming captivated by the word of God, but frankly you will not grow at all if you are not even exposing yourself to it. I have found one of the most fruitful ways to become captivated by God's word is to ask Him to make me hungry for it.
Later when we get to verse 13 we see that Timothy is commanded to read the Bible out loud, this is because owning a copy at that time was expensive and very few individuals if any could afford it. But if the church had a copy and it was read to the congregation than it could be absorbed in that way.
The plain fact of the matter for you however is that if you want to be a good servant of God you're not going to accomplish it without reading the word of God. You must be constantly nourished by it.
Of course it's not enough to just let your eyes hit the page, you have to obey what you read.
Obedience to the Word
Notice that a good servant has been following the word ("which you have been following" v6).
The book of James goes into detail about the fool who opens the Bible, sees what it says about himself and then walks away without doing anything about it. The simple application is, "don't be that fool."
Listen to what James says,
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed in what he does." (Jas 1:22-25, NIV)
If you want to be a good servant of Christ Jesus, you need to start in the word, then you need to obey the word, third you need to cut out the inflow of garbage.
Living Upon the Word not the World
Look down at verses 7 and 8. I have no doubt that this is the area which causes us the most problem and it's where I need to spend the rest of our time.
The first order of business is cutting off the inflow of garbage. "have nothing to do with worldly fables…" or as the NIV puts it "Godless myths".
Now what do you suppose that means?
In the context of 1 Timothy we can go back to the first chapter and see him talking about these false teachers who were teaching all kinds of myths which did nothing but generate dialog but they certainly didn't help the kingdom of God grow. So on one level I think we can take that same application.
There's an awful lot of speculation about the Bible that does nothing to to grow God's kingdom. A few years ago there was the Bible codes. If you count letters at random intervals you can spell out the winner of the presidential election and all kinds of nonsense like that.
We can't be certain what all of the myths were that Timothy had to deal with, but there is at the very least and equal amount of false teaching around today. The question is: how do you identify false teaching? The answer is simple: by knowing good teaching.
We need to be people of the book.
This week I want to give you a specific challenge.
If you have not yet developed the daily reading of God's word as a habit I want you to bring that under obedience to the Lord.
If you're going to be a good servant of God you need to be constantly in the word, you need to be obeying what you're reading and you need to be cutting off the inflow of false teaching. So number one, I want you to read a book of the Bible this week. If you're not sure which one to read, how about the book of James. It's a short book, you could read it in one sitting.
But if you'll start by reading it through from beginning to end today and then from Monday to Friday read, study and pray through one chapter a day then by the end of the week you will have a great foundation for returning this coming Sunday.
What ever you do this week, get into the word.